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A Whopper of a Tax-Avoidance Scheme

by Clyde Weiss  |  August 28, 2014

A Whopper of a Tax-Avoidance Scheme

Next time you consider chomping into a Burger King Whopper, you might think about the bite this fast food giant is trying to take out of the American taxpayer.

The company announced it will purchase beloved Canadian coffee and donut shop chain Tim Hortons. That purchase could help it dodge its U.S. tax obligations, shifting its burden to the rest of us American taxpayers.

While the prospect of avoiding taxes and raking in higher profits may sound appealing to the company’s top brass, the rest of us know we’ll have to make up the difference, or do with less public service as the tax revenue pool shrinks.

Burger King is pursuing the purchase as a process called a tax inversion. That is, when a U.S.-based firm buys a company in another country, and relocates its corporate headquarters. Even if most of the company’s managers and employees remain in the United States, the firm can take advantage of the other country’s lower tax brackets.

It’s a decision that Walgreens recently mulled but dropped after American taxpayers came together in protest of the move. But since 1983, approximately 75 corporations abandoned America through inversion, and at least 10 more corporate inversions are currently underway.

AFSCME opposes these corporate tax evasion schemes. We are urging members of Congress to enact the “Stop Corporate Inversions Act of 2014” (S.2360), introduced by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.). The measure would prevent U.S. corporations from claiming to be foreign companies unless they meet specified conditions. 

We also support the Bring Jobs Home Act, introduced by Sens. John Walsh (D-Mont.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). The legislation would eliminate some tax incentives that corporate CEOs use to increase their profits by sending our jobs overseas.

To tell Congress to pass the "Stop Corporate Inversions Act of 2014," send them a message here!

Missouri AFSCME Members Aid Ferguson Community

by Helen Cox  |  August 29, 2014

Missouri AFSCME Members Aid Ferguson Community AFSCME Council 72 Pres. Michelle Mason and Willie Donald, a Local 2730 steward, brought donations to St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Ferguson.

FERGUSON, Mo. – Community members in this St. Louis suburb saw an outpouring of support from labor, faith and other organizations following the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown earlier this month. Among those helping are members of AFSCME Council 72, representing public workers across Missouri and Kansas.

Council 72 members stepped up by providing much-needed diapers, toilet paper, bottles of water and meals for the community and businesses that were shuttered during the protests that followed Brown’s death, said Willie Donald, a steward of Local 2730 (Council 72) who works as a developmental assistant at the Bellefontaine Habilitation Center in St. Louis.

With the school year start date postponed in Ferguson until this week, these donations are making a real difference for families, many of whom receive meal assistance through their schools. AFSCME Council 72 members provided lunches outside of libraries offering educational programming for Ferguson’s children.

“We want to help the businesses so that they’ll open back up and go back to normal,” Donald said. “Everything’s still boarded up. We’re trying to help meet people’s immediate needs. We want to start building everything up into something better.”

AFSCME members also joined with the PICO National Network and other locally based organizations, this past Saturday, to launch a weekly voter registration drive to foster political empowerment and civic engagement in Ferguson.

“Our union stands in solidarity with the entire Ferguson community,” said AFSCME Pres.Lee Saunders. “And we stand with our labor and faith allies to urge a peaceful resolution to this tragic situation.”

Philadelphia City Workers Reach Tentative Agreement

by Kevin Zapf Hanes  |  August 28, 2014

Philadelphia City Workers Reach Tentative Agreement AFSCME members protesting Philadelphia Mayor Nutter's attempt to slash wages and benefits.

PHILADELPHIA – After more than five years, AFSCME District Council 33 reached a tentative contract agreement with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter's administration. Perseverance paid off for the hard-working members of DC 33. If the contract is ratified, they will receive a $2,800 signing bonus and wage increases, among other improvements.

The Nutter administration spent the past five years trying to force the council to accept a contract that would have reduced wages, benefits and working conditions. The mayor even went to the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court to overturn decades of collective bargaining law in order to have the ability to impose the city’s “last best offer.”

But the AFSCME members stayed strong.

“Even as life became increasingly hard for our members, with increased health and welfare costs, frozen wages and threats to their collective bargaining rights, the members of DC 33 did not give up,” said Pete Matthews, president of District Council 33. “Many thought our firm bargaining position would not work, but our members knew they would prevail. I am proud to lead a district council that stood firm and remained strong.”

The lawsuit filed by the Nutter administration would have negatively affected public-sector bargaining rights throughout Pennsylvania. After the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case, Mayor Nutter quickly appealed the decision to a lower court. The case was still active throughout the negotiations. As part of the tentative agreement, the city agreed to drop the lawsuit upon ratification of the contract.

Should DC 33 members ratify the agreement, they will receive a $2,800 signing bonus, increases in health and welfare contributions, and a 3.5-percent wage increase in September and a 2.5-percent increase next July. The mayor froze step increases and longevity pay during negotiations in an attempt to force workers to accept his unreasonable terms. Both will be reinstated immediately upon ratification of the agreement, which would be in force through July 2016.

A major sticking point in contract negotiations was the city’s demand for 15 furlough days, which President Matthews argued were not necessary and the members of DC 33 refused to accept. The Nutter administration was forced to abandon its position and there are no furlough days in this agreement. 

“Our fight for fair wages,  benefits and working conditions did more than just awaken our members, it made the community more aware of the important jobs we do that make Philadelphia work,” Matthews said. “I want to thank the other unions, members of the community and faith leaders who came out in support for the work we do. This not only helped our cause but it also made our city stronger.”

 

Missouri Home Care Workers, Clients Build Coalition

by Joe Lawrence  |  August 28, 2014

Missouri Home Care Workers, Clients Build Coalition Participants of the Missouri Home Care Summit.

Nearly 100 Missouri Home Care Union activists and their clients convened last weekend to plan their push to the finish line for a first contract. Negotiations with the state wrapped up on non-economic issues; now the focus is on winning a decent raise for the home care workers in the state’s Consumer Directed Services program serving Medicaid clients.

The remarkable alliance between clients and attendants was strengthened significantly at the summit. “Your fight is our fight,” client Michael Richards told home care attendants. “We’re all one in this.”

Clients were resolute in linking better wages to better care. Demand for home care is expanding, but poverty-level wages cause high turnover and make recruitment difficult.

“For the work we do, $11 an hour isn’t too much to ask,” attendant and longtime activist Elinor Simmons told the group.

The three-day conference was packed with workshops devoted to mobilizing support for the wage increase. It left participants fired up and prepared.

“I learned how to fight for what’s right,” said Miracle Martin, whose grandmother Juanita Crenshaw is an attendant.

“We know how to speak up for what we want, how to write our political leaders and newspapers,” said attendant Laverne Harrell. “I’m taking a stack of community support cards back home with me, and I’m getting every one of them filled out!”

“We’re building one great, powerful voice,” Richards said, “and Missouri is going to hear from us.”

Transgender State Employees Win Health Care Coverage

by David Card  |  August 28, 2014

Transgender State Employees Win Health Care Coverage The transgender pride flag.

Transgender state employees in Washington state, on July 31, celebrated a vote by the Public Employee Benefits Board (PEBB) that ended discriminatory exclusions in the state’s health care coverage.

“I applaud the decision … to eliminate insurance coverage exclusions targeted strictly at transgender employees,” said Cherilyn Tate, a member of Local 793. “This decision will finally bring the insurance provided by the state for public employees into line with Washington state's non-discrimination law. This is a good solid second step that I am proud to have had the respect and support of my brothers and sisters throughout AFSCME and specifically WFSE Council 28.”

Greg Devereux, executive director of the Washington Federation of State Employees/AFSCME Council 28 and PEBB board member, called the denial of coverage unfair. “No one should be denied health care coverage because of who they are,” he said.

According to the Coalition for Inclusive Healthcare, nearly all insurance plans in Washington state exclude coverage for transition-related medical treatment, even when that same treatment, such as mental health care, cancer screenings or hormone therapy, is covered for non-transgender people.

The board’s unanimous vote means transgender employees will gain access to hormone treatments, mental health care and other nonsurgical treatments as early as Jan.1, 2015. Surgeries will be covered next July.

Bring on the Ice Water!

August 27, 2014

In case you haven’t already seen it happening on Facebook, people are raising awareness and donations to fight the neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) with the "ALS Ice Bucket Challenge" by getting their friends and family to dump ice water on their heads.

AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders was challenged by Jon Stocks of the NEA, Danny Homan of Council 61, and Chris Mabe of OCSEA to take the splash for charity.  AFSCME is making a $1,000 donation to the ALS Association in honor of former staffers and family members Sue Wilmouth, Pearl Coleman, and Wayne Fuller. 

Who’s next?  The president has nominated Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, Paul Moist, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, J. David Cox, president of AFGE, and our Secretary-Treasurer, Laura Reyes.  

To find out more about how you can donate, click on www.alsa.org.

Chicago Cab Drivers Push Commissioner to Act

by Joe Lawrence  |  August 27, 2014

Chicago Cab Drivers Push Commissioner to Act A delegation of Cab Drivers United-AFSCME Council 31 after addressing Chicago’s taxi town hall meeting.

The agency, overseeing the taxi industry in Chicago, held its first-ever town hall meeting for the drivers after more than a thousand AFSCME International Union Convention delegates, Council 31 members and drivers rallied at City Hall.

The drivers had the attention of the city's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) and its new commissioner, Maria Guerra Lapacek.

Cab drivers fought back against sweeping City Hall regulations passed two years ago that decimated their rights and income. An AFSCME study released in June found that the changes cost drivers an average $7,500 a year in take-home pay. In just two months, more than 2,000 joined Cab Drivers United.

Much needs to be done to put drivers and their families back on the road to justice, but some changes can be brought about immediately by BACP. At the town hall, a long procession of speakers from Cab Drivers United-AFSCME Council 31 spelled out what the commissioner could do immediately to alleviate some of the hardships they face.

Among the changes the commissioner could implement are lower lease rates, which skyrocketed with the 2012 regulations (while taxi fares remained frozen for nearly a decade), reducing the exorbitant fees charged to credit card fare payments and instituting fair rules.

Confronted by impassioned – and well-informed – testimony from drivers, Commissioner Lapacek acknowledged she could make changes to some of the conditions that undermine drivers. Cab Drivers United will keep up the pressure to make sure that happens.

Community Rallies to Support Sanitation Workers

by Helen Cox  |  August 27, 2014

Community Rallies to Support Sanitation Workers AFSCME Local 3294 member Randolph Brown and his family attended the Commission meeting.

South Miami, Fla. – A show of support by residents, who joined city workers in a march on City Hall, convinced the South Miami city commissioners to unanimously reject efforts to outsource residential garbage pickups, a major victory for Local 3294.

The day before the vote, city commissioners listened intently to residents who said sanitation workers are like a part of their family, and how they would rather have their taxes raised than to see services suffer through outsourcing. Workers discussed how the contractor, Waste-Pro, would lower labor standards not only for sanitation workers but across the board.

Randolph Brown, a sanitation worker, attended the City Commission’s meeting with his family, teaching his children the value of standing up for themselves and coming together.

“They tried to force Waste-Pro on South Miami. At first, they didn’t want to listen to residents but when they saw our numbers, they went the other way,” he says. “There’s power in numbers.”

“It’s about the people and the quality services they provide,” said 40-year South Miami resident and retired educator Nancy Wilson Young. “Now the commission knows that residents value our sanitation workers and that we’ll be back if they try anything again.”

Although the South Miami outsourcing fight was put to bed, outsourcing threats were revived in North Miami Beach and Hialeah’s sanitation departments.

“Our local and the community we serve have put a stop to outsourcing before and we can do it one more time,” said Janice Coakley, president of North Miami Beach AFSCME Local 3293. “I have faith we’re going to beat it back by standing together.”

#WEmatter and We Demand Change

by AFSCME Secretary Treasurer Laura Reyes  |  August 26, 2014

For too long the needs of women and families have been dismissed by our elected officials, as if women, who make up more than 50 percent of the population, are a special interest group seeking special treatment. It is way past time Congress understood that our issues are not an afterthought but are of critical importance to the economic health and well-being of our nation.

On Tuesday, AFSCME is participating in the Women's Equality Day #WEmatter campaign, a nationwide day of action to tell lawmakers that women -- and the issues we care about -- matter. We are putting them on notice. They can no longer abdicate their responsibility to govern on behalf of all of us and not face the consequences.

When 42 million women and 28 million children live in poverty, it's time for Congress to hear #WEmatter.

When, 51 years after the Equal Pay Act was signed into law, women still earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns for the same job, it's time for Congress to hear #WEmatter.

When women earning the minimum wage can work full time and still live in poverty, it's time for Congress to hear #WEmatter.

Read the full article here »

Politicians, Private Prison Companies Capitalize on Immigration Crisis

by Eli Magaña  |  August 26, 2014

As our nation struggles for a solution to an influx of child refugees from Central America, politicians and private prison companies have stepped forward to capitalize on the crisis. 

Last month, the controversial GEO Group was awarded a contract in Karnes County, Texas, to house more than 500 of the recently arrived immigrant women and children. The decision sparked outrage among community activists, including members of AFSCME Texas Corrections.

“The GEO Group has had a number of lawsuits brought against it for mismanagement, sexual assaults on inmates by staff, and wrongful deaths,” said AFSCME Local 3806 Pres. Richard Salazar. “This unfortunate decision will exacerbate the situation. AFSCME Texas Corrections was instrumental in the recent closings of CCA-run private prisons in Mineral Wells and Dawson for similarly egregious conditions.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a major recipient of contributions from private prison companies – particularly the GEO Group – recently called for the deployment of 1,000 National Guard troops to the border, a move that is expected to score him political points among conservatives as he considers a run for President in 2016.

“It’s about time we hold these politicians accountable and shed light on their corporate backers,” Salazar said. “The millions of dollars that private prison companies had to shell out in legal settlements over the years prove that the industry is nothing more than a drain on taxpayer resources.”

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